RISKING WHO ONE IS by Susan Rubin Suleiman


Encounters with Contemporary Art and Literature
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 In the shadow of ``ethnic cleansing'' and rigid nationalism, a noted academic literary critic examines exemplary creations of the ``plural self'' and urges an extension of the private ironies of ``postmodern subjectivity'' into the public sphere. Suleiman (Subversive Intent: Gender, Politics, and the Avant- Garde, not reviewed) studies authors and artists who live ``between'' safely fixed categories: between national identities (memoirs of Holocaust survivors and war refugees, including the Hungarian-born author herself); between motherhood and creativity (Mary Gordon, Rosellen Brown, Toni Morrison); between languages (Christine Brooke-Rose, HÇläne Cixous); between love of male peers and irritation at their debasing idealizations (Leonora Carrington). Among autobiographies she favors ``the kind that tries to recover, through writing, an irrecoverable absence,'' a mother tongue for the uprooted and decentered. Although Suleiman is an acute reader of playful novelists like Angela Carter, most of her subjects have been gravely ``hurt into poetry.'' Interested in the beautiful and the beautifully ugly, Suleiman is drawn to literature and visual art that offers ``disruptive, painful self-exposure and self-exploration.'' She is a prober of wounds, including her own, when a Chicana reader faults her for class-bound views on author- mothers (the letter and its cogent rejoinder are reprinted here), or when she confronts the much-admired Simone de Beauvoir's dubious war conduct. Suleiman argues, finally, in contrast to thinkers like Richard Rorty, for an essential continuity between public and private spheres. Pinning future salvation to the inculcation of ``divided loyalties,'' she asserts that such divisions would create tolerance by instilling an awareness of how many conflicting interests each of us is made of. The admittedly utopian-sounding proposal she leaves us with is this: ``Since public rhetorics of certainty... don't seem to have worked all that well... why not try a public rhetoric of doubt?'' Detailed, generous analyses of complex artists, buttressed by lucid cultural speculation.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-674-77301-2
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1994


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